THERE IS BUT one item on my todo list when I land at Da Nang International Airport, bound for Banyan Tree Lang Co resort about an hour’s drive away: spa.
A few months earlier, no doubt spurred by a neighbouring hotel’s industry-shaking decision to introduce a room price inclusive of all spa treatments, the resort had introduced the Ultimate Banyan Tree Lang Co package, which offers takers a choice between all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-golf or all-you-can-spa options throughout their entire stay. And I had every intention of raising my hand most vigorously and waving it around in favour of the last. I had two nights reserved in paradise, and by God, I was going to make the most of it.
I did, in the end – but not in the manner in which I initially assumed. In fact, my entire plan of alternating between lounging face up in the sun by the pool and face down looking through a hole in the massage bed is thwarted almost as soon as I arrive at the resort.
Because before I think about where my face is going to be, my stomach is telling me where to go, and that’s Azura, the beachfront restaurant that’s your one-stop shop for daytime dining needs. A walk down to and along the beach seems like a natural postlunch diversion, so that’s what we do. It’s not a beach for sunbathing – the sand is rough and rocky, and there’s not another person in sight – but that’s what poolside lounge chairs are for.
Pools are a feature of every category of room in the resort, whether the phase-one seafacing Beach Pool Villas or Lagoon Pool Villas, or the phase-two Hillside Pool Villas, which are desirably perched up high and with views of the whole region below. They aren’t quite lap-sized, but the adjacent heated Jacuzzis are a nice touch, or if your fingers aren’t adequately prune-y yet, a dunk in the stand-alone bathtubs (which, in Hilltop Villas, share the same view as the pools but from inside glass sliding doors) will do the job.
The rest of the villa interiors are as tricked out as you’d expect – you have your three-zillion-threadcount sheets, your LCD TV and DVD set-up, your mini kitchen with not-so-mini bar, the kind of airconditioning system that dreams are made of, and even a menu of pillow options in addition to the 30 or so billowing cushions that hold court at the head of the beds and are strewn over gigantic couches.
Somehow, having dawdled too long at lunch and along the beach, I’ve achieved zero spa treatments and logged zero minutes in the pool – but the chauffeured buggy in the front of my door says it’s dinner time at Saffron, the Thai restaurant that’s a fixture at Banyan Trees from Bangkok to Bintan, Mayakoba to Macau. By the time it’s over, though, there’s time for just a moonlit dip of toes into the glowing blue pool. “Tomorrow,” I promise myself.
But 12 hours later I’m not ensconced in a seaweed wrap or submerged in a rose-petal bath, nor am I bikini-clad and lathered in tanning oil. Instead, I’m surrounded by greens. Lots of greens. Because I’m at the farm.
Lettuce and lemon grass! Red perilla! Tomatoes! Chillis! Piper sarmentosum! I may not know what all of these species of greens are, but boy am I excited. I’ve just been taken from the main property to the Banyan Tree’s offsite organic farm, where produce is grown to supply the resort’s kitchen. I’m pilfering left and right like I’m Rene Redzepi foraging for my customers at Noma – except it’s all going in my mouth. And Redzepi would likely not be learning to cook the simplest of Vietnamese dishes – bo la lot and banh xeo – under a shaded canopy.
Bo la what? My cultural ignorance is soon remedied in a guessing game – on one plate are betel leaves, on another a big blob of minced beef, and then a whole array of seasonings. The seasonings go in the beef, the leaves are wrapped pigs-in-a-blanket style around the beef, skewered and laid gently upon a grill, as a fragrant aroma begins to swim through the open air. While the fire does wonderful things to my creation, the plan for banh xeo goes into action, resulting in a classic, crispy, meaty omelette that’s wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce.
The meal and sense of accomplishment are enough to satiate me for a two-hour journey to Hoi An, the colourful ancient town and Unesco heritage site. There are temples galore, shops, bars, restaurants and outdoor markets. Every which way you turn is a postcard. As night falls, you can buy floating lanterns and set them free along the Thu Bon river to join others in forming an army of wandering flames.
And naturally, that means another full day has passed, without my consent or knowledge, sans spa treatment. Ah, those best-laid plans, foiled again!
But not on the last day. On this day I will prevail. And so at morning it’s off to breakfast, and then straight to the spa, just as heavy rainfall besets the region. As I’m lathered, scrubbed, kneaded and oiled to a desirable degree, the pitter-patter of raindrops mixes with signature spa sounds for a lullaby that no sleep-therapy sound machine can replicate. When my treatment winds down, a melancholy begins to set in. There’s time only for room service and a dripping-wet, defiant dip in the pool, rain be damned, before that cursed buggy is back at the villa door, its smiling driver offering to help with luggage.
Oh, well. There’s always next time. And next time, I will do nothing, nothing but spa treatments.
Maybe. But probably not.